Diabetes and Hearing Loss: American Diabetes Association Alert Day
Wednesday, March 16th 2011
Diabetes is a serious disease that strikes nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States, according to the ADA. For many, diagnosis may come seven to ten years after the onset of the disease. Therefore, early diagnosis is critical to successful treatment and delaying or preventing some of its complications, such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and death.
According the ADA, everyone should be aware of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. People who are overweight, under active and over the age of 45 should consider themselves at risk for the disease. People who have a family history of the disease also are at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by losing just 7 percent of body weight, through regular physical activity (30 minutes a day, five days a week) and healthy eating. By understanding the risk, individuals can take the necessary steps to help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Is there a link?
Diabetes and hearing loss are two of America’s most widespread health concerns. Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and an estimated 34.5 million have some type of hearing loss.
The numbers are similar — is there a link?
Yes, says the National Institute of Health (NIH). In fact, the NIH has found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease. Also, of the 79 million adults thought to have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than in those with normal blood sugar.
How does diabetes contribute to hearing loss?
There are a number of ways the ears can be affected by diabetes, and hearing loss is frequently the result. Diabetics tend to have a lack of keratin protein which forms a protective layer within the ear canal, enabling wax to travel outwards, and preventing over stimulation of the ear canal tissue. Absence or abnormal levels of keratin protein can lead to hearing problems- due to blockage of earwax in the ear canal.
Hearing depends on small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Researchers believe that, over time, high blood glucose levels can damage these vessels and nerves, diminishing the ability to hear.
A link between diabetes and hearing loss, is neuropathy or nerve damage, which is a common complication experienced by diabetics. High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can cause chemical changes in the body’s nerves that can impair their ability to transmit signals. When this nerve damage occurs in the ear’s neurological system, people can experience problems hearing and understanding speech.
Hearing screening is vital
Hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Yet hearing screenings typically are not part of the regular regimen of care that people with diabetes are routinely recommended to receive. Nor do the vast majority of doctors in today’s health care system include hearing health as a routine part of annual exams.
"Hearing loss affects virtually every aspect of a person's life, making it all the harder for people with diabetes to cope with their disease,” said Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI's executive director. “A hearing check is invaluable in determining whether or not someone with diabetes does have a hearing loss and will help to ensure that they get the treatment they need."